Daily Archives: September 30, 2011

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Mark Roskill) – Review

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh by Vincent Van Gogh (edited by Mark Roskill)
Age: Adult/Teen
Genre: Nonfiction/autobiography/biography
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2008
Translation copyright 1929
ISBN: 9781415680867
344 pages

The title of this book is pretty self-explanatory. This book is a collection of letters written from Vincent Van Gogh to his younger brother Theo over the course of 7 years. The letters encapsulate much of what we already know about Van Gogh, but they also bring a much more human light to this iconic artistic figure of western civilization.

The majority of the letters are heartbreaking and honest with Van Gogh’s desire to just find somebody to love and with whom to start a family. This unrequited and unfilled love and need to devote in his life accounted for much of his internal pain and struggles. His relationship with his brother Theo is frighteningly strong and supportive. The two brothers are almost one entity, they are so close. Theo funded almost all of Van Gogh’s work, constantly sending his older brother money for painting resources. Van Gogh tried working various jobs, but nothing ever stuck. While Theo worked at an art gallery in Paris, Van Gogh moved from city to city, to country to country until he finally found his muse in Arles, France. In this beautiful little city in Provance, Van Gogh found his inspiration and painted the majority of his best-known artwork: Starry Night, The Yellow House, Sunflowers, The Bedroom, etc.

I stayed in Arles for 3 days in April as part of my honeymoon, and I was equally captivated with the sights and sounds of such a mellow, yet bustling city.

My only caution with this book is to read it with the bible & a detailed book of art in tow. Van Gogh makes numerous references to bible passages and discusses thoroughly his opinion of contemporary and past artworks and artists. I often had to look up the images online to get a better sense of Van Gogh’s opinion.

I think the term “misunderstood artist” was really coined for Van Gogh. He had such an earnest heart, but sold only 1 painting in his lifetime (2 if you count the one he sold to his brother), he was tortured, suffered mental breakdowns towards the end of his life, and was driven mad with desires and passions. His life in letters is at times cryptic (hardly mentioned his marriage to the subject of his drawing Sorrow), and at times a brutal reflection of himself and others around him.

Editor Mark Roskill has also included a series of photos of Vincent and Theo as well as Van Gogh’s artwork mentioned throughout the course of the letters. I definitely recommend this book to any fan of art, Van Gogh, and history.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 47 of 2011